Free Examples and Exercises to Practice Hatching Techniques

Add depth and dynamism to your portrait sketches by experimenting with the "hatching" technique

To capture a person in portrait form, you need to pay attention to all the fine details that make up their look and expression. It can be an intimidating art form — but really, it consists of building up many small techniques that come together to form a powerful and eye-catching image.

For Gabriela Niko (@gabrielaniko), portrait sketching is a natural and powerful form of self-expression. Gabriela is a freelance illustrator and sketchbook artist based in Poland, with over 300K followers on Instagram, and she’s known for her ethereal and captivating portraits. She is currently a brand ambassador for Paper Concept, a Polish art store, and has completed a number of commissioned works, including book illustrations, tattoos, and logo designs.

Gabriela's portraits from pencil to digital color.

One technique that Gabriela advises for bringing a simple sketch to life is hatching. Here, she shares the three basic types of hatching and gives examples of the variations you may find in portrait work. You can then use her worksheets to practice each technique and perhaps even invent your own version!

But first, let’s learn more about hatching, and how it contributes to a beautiful portrait sketch.

Shading is an essential step to bringing a portrait to life.
Shading is an essential step to bringing a portrait to life.

What is the hatching technique?

In the past hatching was a technique used by engravers, woodcutters, and other artists using materials that didn’t blend well, like pen and ink. It indicated light and shade, adding dimension to otherwise flat artwork. This dynamism means it is still popular even with tools that do allow for softer shading, like pencils.

In her course on portrait sketching, Gabriela explains that there are three main types: hatching with simple, base lines, cross-hatching, and cross contour, which uses curved lines to demonstrate the fluid shape of an object. Each has different ways to indicate the weight, or darkness, of the shadow. For example, in line hatching you might press harder to thicken your lines, while in cross-hatching you might make the lines closer together for a denser effect. However, in general you can follow these basic guidelines:

- Length: a longer line suggests more shadow and a smoother object
- Angle: in cross-hatching, a tighter angle will create an intense look
- Closeness/density: lines closer together will create a darker shadow
- Pressure: harder pressure will darken lines and intensify the shadow

Gabriela is @doodle_traffic on Instagram, where her sketches often demonstrate the cross-hatching technique to build depth.
Gabriela is @doodle_traffic on Instagram, where her sketches often demonstrate the cross-hatching technique to build depth.

How hatching brings life to portraiture

Because hatching often involves many overlapping lines, it can add a sense of movement to an otherwise ‘still life’.

Hatching can also influence the style of the portrait, and how it stands out from the crowd. Some artists choose to use bold lines and perhaps bright colors in their hatching, which can add a pop-art or comic look. On the other hand, hatching can sometimes be so fine or small, you can’t even see it. This gives a super-detailed and dynamic look that borders on photographic in its quality. As with any art tool or technique, it’s how you use it that will make it your own.

Free Download: Types of Hatching + Exercise Pages by Gabriela Niko

In the resource below, Gabriela shares the types of hatching and their uses, as well as demonstrating several variations using the example of the human nose. On the following exercise pages, you can try your own hatching techniques.

After clicking on the button below, you’ll find a .pdf file in your Downloads folder titled, Types of Hatching + Exercise Pages by Gabriela Niko.

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U2-02_Types of Hatching and Exercise Pages

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If you want to keep learning, you can sign up for Gabriela’s online course, Portrait Sketchbooking: Explore the Human Face, in which you’ll explore proportion, structure, and how to draw facial features using different types of portraits.

You can also learn other techniques with our range of portrait illustration courses.

You may also like:

- The History of Anatomical Drawing: How Illustrations Revolutionized Science
- Illustration Tutorial: Ballpoint Pen Exercises to Loosen Up Your Hand
- Illustration Tutorial: How to Promote Your Artwork
- Powerful Female Characters: Illustrating Confidence and Diversity, course by Eunice Adeyi
- Lighting and Color for Digital Portraits in Photoshop, course by Karmen Loh

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